Writing Missionary Newsletters
I read the Letters to the Editor in the October 2010 issue with interest. As someone who worked in Nepal for much of the 1990s, I found it hard to treat those we wrote to as anything other than friends.
Writing Missionary Newsletters
I read the Letters to the Editor in the October 2010 issue with interest. As someone who worked in Nepal for much of the 1990s, I found it hard to treat those we wrote to as anything other than friends. There was none of this “home team” or “ministry team members” jargon. At the same time, few, if any, of our letters spoke about the evangelistic efforts we were making—not least because, as our agency’s agreement with the government made clear, we were not to be involved in evangelistic activities. We would mention people (often by first name or initials) with whom we had shared the gospel and ask that our friends pray for them. Occasionally, we would also mention something the Nepalese Church in our area was involved with, such as an Easter procession. Increasingly, people are on the mission field as tentmakers, and our letters need to respect that change of focus and purpose.
—Andy Bowdler, tentmaker
I want to thank you for your July 2010 edition of EMQ. I especially appreciated Carlos Diaz’ article on contextualization, and JdO’s article, although more timid. Diaz’ article should be a definitive answer to much of the discussion surrounding C5 contextualization. I hope it reaches many key people and that they will take seriously the concerns of someone who experienced C5 missions in his own country.
Children at Risk
Greg Burch’s article (October 2010) addresses “children at risk” in a particular ministry context and as an area of omission. Perhaps it is being omitted since there are other ministries dragging our focus away.
What this article doesn’t address is when: (1) our intervention is not warranted; (2) our compassionate hearts overlook real needs; (3) the general church population thinks a child without certain luxuries is “imperiled to the extent that their life chances, emotional progress, and sense of self-worth and identity are all under threat”; and (4) the Western Church imposes its value system onto others.
What we value may not be necessary in certain contexts. Education is a classic example. A society that exists on subsistence farming does not need law graduates. It needs farmers. But well-meaning Christians often come to a village, offer to educate the children, and take them out of their community to do this. Bad missiology, bad anthropology, bad theology.
The cost of these hostels is horrendous. Rarely does the well-meaning cross-cultural worker spend the time to study the language, so they employ locals, who sometimes lack the same compassion and love for the children. “It’s a job” has been heard more than once by language-savvy missionaries.
Anecdotally, we are finding that many of these children at risk become Christians for the time they are in the hostel, but give it up when they are released at age 18 or 21. The percentage of true believers appears to be less than twenty percent—not the seventy percent espoused by Western Sunday school statistics.
Also, if a hostel costs $100,000/year to run and after fifteen years in an institution only two in every twelve children become dedicated believers, you have to ask yourself, “Could we have spent the $1.5 million and achieved a different result? Could we have influenced the whole village? Could we have built a school in the village, funded it, and educated one hundred children ‘at risk’”?
Burch’s article was helpful, but lacked a proper ethical look at the impact the church has on children dragged into the “at-risk” category.
—Daron Himstedt, mission pastor, former missionary in Asia
Response by Greg Burch
I am grateful for the opportunity to dialogue about the issues Daron brings up. The article I wrote focuses on children living in “high risk” circumstances. The purpose of the article was to respond to ethical practices with these young people. Children who live on the street, who are trafficked and dying of hunger, deserve immediate attention by missional entities (both national and international responses).
The suggested guidelines in the write-up look to recognized international principles such as child participation, protection, and provisions to guide missional responses to such children. The task we have before us is urgent and deeply embedded in the heart of Jesus. Nonetheless, I agree with Daron’s statement that some Western agencies and churches have sought to impose their values on other cultures. In my article, I state that “we are frequently confronted with those who with good intentions, desire to help and care for children, but in the end possibly cause more harm than good.” In saying this, I am acknowledging that some Christian responses have failed to understand the local context (including the values, local laws, culture, and other structural issues present in cross-cultural ministry). Unfortunately, as Daron states, some sincere Christians have mistaken other childhoods as abnormal and have sought to respond to them by creating ministries that perhaps do more harm than good. There needs to be much more discussion about this within our mission circles.
One of my concerns about ministry to children today is the notion that we should base our ministry strategy on how many children become “true believers.” From what I understand about Christ and Scripture, mercy ministries are to be carried out because they are inherently good. Children should be fed and cared for because they are created in the image of God and worthy to be cared for because they represent his likeness.
Of course, all of us in cross-cultural ministries would love to see all the children we work with worship Christ. But in the end, our mandate to care for our neighbor is not based upon predicted commitment or faith choice. More conversation on these issues is needed. Feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.Let’s keep the conversation going!